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Aspartame is in Canadian Diet Pepsi, but not American. Is it less safe?

How soda is sweetened has been the subject of debate for decades.

PepsiCo today said it will replace the sweetener aspartame with sucralose in its Diet Pepsi, Caffeine-Free Diet Pepsi and Wild Cherry Diet Pepsi products, but only in the U.S. market. In Canada, the products will continue to be sweetened with aspartame.

Aspartame is better known as NutraSweet, Equal or Sugar Twin, sucralose is marketed under the Splenda brand name. Together, the artificial sweeteners are used in thousands of products, from chewing gum to cereal to sugar-free ketchup.

“Diet cola drinkers in the U.S. told us they wanted aspartame-free Diet Pepsi and we’re delivering,” explained Pepsi senior VP Seth Kaufman.

But in Canada, no changes are planned, said Sandy Lyver, the corporate communications manager for PepsiCo Beverages Canada.

The move begs the question of whether or not Diet Pepsi is still safe for Canadians to drink. The answer depends partly on who you ask and whether you believe the addition of artificially sweetened soft drinks are safe for any diet. But it seems clear that Americans won’t be waking up to a healthier drink than we will in August, when the sucralose-based products are expected to begin production.

Pepsi’s elimination of aspartame should cheer the millions who believe the product is unsafe. But it is also likely mark day one of the sucralose backlash.

Pepsi’s move on aspartame is more about perception than reality. The company’s about-face on the sweetener comes in the wake of soda sales reached that have slumped to their lowest point in a generation. Both Coke and Pepsi have scrambled for solutions, including diversifying to beverages such as water, coffee and most recently milk. Coke will soon roll out a product called FairLife, a new drink that will be feature more protein and calcium and will be marketed as “premium” milk.

Pepsi’s elimination of aspartame should cheer the millions who believe the product is unsafe. But it will also likely mark day one of the sucralose backlash.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says aspartame is “one of the most exhaustively studied substances in the human food supply, with more than 100 studies supporting its safety.”

This is corroborated by the American Dietetic Association, which points out that aspartame’s safety has been documented in more than 200 objective scientific studies.

The safety of sucralose, meanwhile, is almost as hotly debated. A recent review published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health found that the substance may cause a variety of harmful biological effects, including the reduction of gut bacteria, the release of toxic compounds, and the alteration of blood sugar levels.

But The Center for Science in the Public Interest, which downgraded sucralose from “Safe” to “Caution” in June 2013, citing a study that linked the substance to increased leukemia risk in rats, said sucralose “appears to be the safest artificial sweetener”.

For both Canadians and Americans the bottom line is this: drinking Diet Pepsi is about as safe or unsafe as it ever was. Meanwhile, bucking the growing trend of slumping soda sales is one item that retailers literally can’t keep on the shelf. It’s referred to as “Mexican Coke” and also “Passover Coke” because it is made with real cane sugar, which is kosher.

“The reason for Passover Coke’s popularity among the gastronomic elite: People think it tastes better,” noted The New Republic. Last summer, Pepsi jumped on board with its own real sugar offering.

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About The Author /

Cantech Letter founder and editor Nick Waddell has lived in five Canadian provinces and is proud of his country's often overlooked contributions to the world of science and technology. Waddell takes a regular shift on the Canadian media circuit, making appearances on CTV, CBC and BNN, and contributing to publications such as Canadian Business and Business Insider.
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